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A Mobile Internet Where the Customer is King?
A Mobile Internet Where the Customer is King?

The Mobile Services initiative (M-Services) was announced by the GSM Association this past summer. As leading GSM operators begin to individually announce and launch M-Services with the rollout of GPRS, and M-Services-enabled handsets come onto the market, what does it mean to you and your subscribers?

Even though the GSM operators are leading the effort, M-Services really begins with the end user - the customer. M-Services is about dramatically improving the user experience and delivering compelling services that customers will want to buy.

Making the customer the most important focal point sounds obvious, but our industry has failed to do just that. We have marketed technology and sold phones instead of a ser-vice. We have sold ourselves on the wonders of WAP, but we have failed to sell the customer on the benefits of the services, and generally, the user experience has been poor.

Fragmentation in the industry has been one of the issues. Developers have faced the difficult task of developing their applications to multiple handsets using different browsers and with different infrastructures. Not easy.

Once those applications were up and running, the circuit-switched network made it difficult and costly to connect. And once consumers connected, those text-based applications were often very difficult to use. The varying concern for usability and the various approaches taken in user interface design (e.g., use of soft keys) led to widely different user experiences. The end result? A frustrated and dissatisfied user.

Isn't it about time the industry came to its senses, pooled its collective knowledge, and came together to make the mobile Internet a success? Absolutely.

Generating Revenue
So what is the M-Services initiative? In its simplest form, M-Services is a global industry move by the GSM Association, the industry body representing 70% of the total digital cellular wireless market, to deliver enhanced mobile Internet ser-vices to consumers. Mobile operators have taken the lead to work together and drive the industry forward. They have agreed on a single set of guidelines for mobile Internet phones and services. This will ensure a more comprehensive development environment that will provide developers with a much richer set of tools to create better applications. The goal is to raise the bar on wireless Internet services by stimulating the creation of quality content that will in turn drive usage and lead to much needed revenue for operators and developers.

Rob Conway, CEO of the GSM Association, feels that the most compelling aspect of the M-Services initiative is the opportunity for new revenue streams based on the common application framework: "The M-Services guidelines allow developers to ensure [that] users have a better experience of the device in their hand," he says, "one that will engage them and deliver the true value of the mobile Internet, particularly in terms of GUI elements and large object download capabilities."

Some of the specific elements of M-Services guidelines are:

  • Graphical user interface (GUI)
  • Download of media objects
  • Multimedia messaging
  • SIM Toolkit
  • SyncML for vCard and vCal
The M-Services guidelines include a definition of a graphical user interface (GUI) for mobile browsers, a common framework for downloading consumer-oriented content, and multimedia messaging.

Making Navigation Easier
One of the main factors currently preventing widespread consumer adoption is usability. Feedback that Openwave receives from the general public at our usability labs highlights that navigation is a major bugbear. Currently, the user interface varies from phone to phone, a major stumbling block to creating an intuitive experience for the end user.

The inclusion of the GUI in the guidelines will considerably improve the user experience, through reduced click-throughs and keystrokes, while providing content providers with much richer functionality such as high-resolution graphics and intuitive navigation features. Another key benefit for developers is the ability to predict how content will render on devices, reducing the need to modify applications for every device.

The screen grabs shown in Figure 2 highlight some of the improved features of the GUI:

  • A title bar is necessary in order to facilitate navigation and give immediate information about the exact positioning in the WAP menu. The title bar must scroll with the content on the page, allowing more usable display space on each card.
  • Soft keys should be able to display icons.
  • Soft-key labels must appear out of the text flow and near the physical key to which they correspond.
  • The browser must treat hyperlinks as inline content (e.g., the browser should not insert a new line before each link).
  • Hyperlinks must appear as underlined text and not bracketed. The brackets strongly discourage hyperlinking text in the middle of a sentence.
  • Selection lists must be numbered with their appropriate access key.
  • Push buttons must appear with the label inside of the button, rather than to the side (as in radio or check boxes). It's important that they be readily distinguished from text entry boxes.
  • Forms must appear on a single screen, rather than having labels and inputs broken out onto separate screens.
  • If the content author redefines the backward navigation button (i.e., the "prev" type), the browser must redefine the button that normally performs the back function.
Improved Downloading
Downloading richer and larger file size content is an important element of M-Services. Personalization of handsets through ringtones, wallpapers, screen savers, etc., have already proven very popular. However, this kind of content is being downloaded via SMS today, using different media channels and devices to market, transact, and bill, and content is very limited by size constraints. M-Services aims to solve these problems through the adoption of Download Fun.

Download Fun is a structured system for downloading larger and richer content (e.g., digital pictures, Java applets, music files, etc.) that will enable operators to act as a trusted agent to ensure security, reliability, and payment for content download. These are valuable services for both the end user and the content provider. This becomes particularly important when downloading executable files that run the risk of crashing or taking control of the user's device.

Up until now, content providers have had limited opportunity to share in the revenues generated through mobile Internet services. Download Fun provides a more effective framework for operators to ensure that content providers can effectively generate revenue from mobile Internet services in the future.

Slow Connection Times Still a Problem
So, M-Services solves the problems of usability and rich content, but there's one more factor that's stalling adoption - slow connection times. Even great content and smooth navigation won't make this problem obsolete. But the combination of the M-Services guidelines with the timely rollout of GPRS will. By its very nature, the capability of a packet-switch data network will greatly reduce dial-up time.

The M-Services initiative will ignite a classic demand cycle; better mobile services drive increases in users and usage, which in turn drive demand for, and the creation of, more advanced mobile services.

The GSM Association represents 70% of the world's digital mobile subscribers today, and is expected to grow to 85% by 3G. As M-Services rolls out with GPRS and drives increased penetration of GPRS-enabled phones, the economies of scale and the economics of a large GSM customer base will drive costs down and quality of services up. These are the ingredients necessary to make the customer a rich and happy king.

About Mark Taguchi
Mark Taguchi is director of M-Services for Openwave Europe, Ltd.

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